Maude set to announce move to ‘extended ministerial offices’

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude will today announce that secretaries of  state are to be allowed to expand their private offices, mainly by appointing  policy advisers on short-term civil service contracts. He is also expected to  say that he does not intend to push for further changes to the permanent secretary appointments process this year.

By Joshua.Chambers

10 Jul 2013

There will be no limit on the size of a private office, but they’ll have to be funded from existing budgets and created with the approval of the PM and DPM. Perm secs will also be consulted on all new appointments.

External appointees will work within the current civil service rules on short-term appointments: the Civil Service Commission’s approval will be  required for each appointment not subject to an open competition, and the contracts will be limited to two years. Ministers will also be able to appoint more serving civil servants to their office teams.

The external advisers will be bound by the Civil Service Code, and will not be able to provide political advice. “The only people who will have license to operate politically will be special advisers,” a Whitehall source told CSW.

When reshuffles occur, the source added, the external appointees will be able to either continue working in a private office for the duration of their tenure, or move with their secretary of state.

The move closely mirrors two separate proposals by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Institute for Government, both published this year. However, the IPPR called for the rules on external appointments to be changed so that appointees can serve a full parliamentary term.

Guy Lodge, author of the IPPR’s report, said the change would allow ministers to bring in more policy expertise from outside, while ensuring that offices remain staffed by impartial civil servants. By international standards, he said, the “support ministers are given in Whitehall is weak – both on the official side and the political side.”

The IPPR also recommended the appointment process for permanent secretaries be changed, giving the prime minister the power to choose from an approved shortlist. However, the Whitehall source said that Maude recognises that the Civil Service Commission has already reformed the system to give politicians greater involvement in the process. “We’re going to hold our position for now. We will give it until the end of this year to see how the commission’s guidance works in practice,” the source said.

Maude will, however, announce changes that put permanent secretaries on a fixed tenure, whilst setting out all progress achieved against the Civil Service Reform Plan objectives on a traffic-light scale.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, said: “We support moves that strengthen the support for ministers in government... However, we remain to be convinced that surrounding a minister with personally appointed civil servants will not result in politicisation… and create a destabilising effect every time there is a reshuffle.”

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